Bob Miano's Blog

An Executive journal

Path to CEO: How IT Cultivates Business Leaders

Recently in the Asian edition of CIO.com (CIO Asia), Peter Hind provided several good insights on why CIOs, with the right focus and experience, are some of today’s top candidates for CEO positions. The article, “From CIO to CEO,” focused on the broad business experience today’s top technology leaders must have (such as knowledge of all departments and their operations as well as business goals and strategy). According to Hind, this business intelligence and experience is the kind of knowledge foundation today’s most influential business leaders should have.

I agree with Hind that technology departments today are fertile grounds for growing strong leadership. In fact, I believe the recent transformation of so many IT departments shows how CIOs are rapidly becoming highly effective agents of change and strategic business managers. Just a few short years ago, most businesses were fairly cut off from their IT departments. IT played a key and costly business role (everyone knew the Y2K conversions worked but not how). Still, IT was distanced, even sheltered, from the overall business organization.

Tighter and harder times following the dot-com fallout and economic slowdown required business leaders to understand both the work and the expenses of the IT organization. In addition, businesses have desperately needed the expertise of IT to help improve a wide range of operational areas like compliance, customer management and data management. In short, IT leaders were asked to rapidly integrate their operations and knowledge with the business. They were tasked with providing more efficient, secure and cost effective IT solutions to the whole organization.

I would say it is nothing short of impressive how many CIOs and IT leaders have succeeded at fundamentally changing how they and their staffs operate. Few organizations today would say their IT operations are islands unto themselves. IT departments have made tremendous efforts in improving how they serve the business and create competitive advantage. Venturing far beyond transaction processing, IT departments have integrated technology into every aspect of business functionality, from accounting and sales to marketing and executive analysis. And as technology has expanded its reach across the business organization, CIOs have accompanied it. They have increased their business acumen at functional levels as well as at hierarchical levels, earning a seat in the board room next to their c-level peers.

For me, that ability to rapidly adapt is another reason why CIOs are strong candidates for CEO roles. We work in a market of instant change. IT leaders are old hats at seeing change coming and assessing how an organization must react, absorb and leverage change. They also have learned to drive change, retooling their organizations to focus on business needs and retraining technology staff to understand business operations and strategy. And executives who come from the IT side of the business are excellent learners. They know how to learn new skills and adapt to changing environments. In fact, many of them thrive when learning and change are required.

In today’s world, the best business leaders must be both fast learners and executives ready to understand and drive change. Many CIOs are demonstrating those leadership skills in abundance, and as Hind hints in his article, they are giving top finance and sales executives some serious competition when it comes to earning the CEO job.